Residents push safety on ‘Florence highway’

  • Residents of Nonotuck Street in Florence have hung ribbons on utility poles and car mirrors in memory of their neighbor Alan Porter, who was struck and killed on his bicycle last week at the intersection of Nonotuck and Hinckley streets. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

@amandadrane
Published: 5/23/2017 7:56:20 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Last week, Nonotuck Street residents organizing around traffic-calming in their neighborhood saw their fears realized when a car struck one of their own.

The accident killed Alan H. Porter, 78, of Florence. Police said Porter was exiting Hinckley Street and attempting to cross Nonotuck when he was struck by an eastbound vehicle. A day after the crash, the city’s Transportation and Parking Commission approved improvements — two speed bumps and a raised crosswalk — that were in the works for more than a year.

The commission cited a traffic study from last March, which found drivers regularly exceed the 30 mph speed limit on Nonotuck Street by an average of 10 to 12 mph.

That study, which precipitated recommendations from the Department of Public Works, was the result of neighborhood outcry. Many residents are happy to see the city address their long-standing concerns, but worry whether it will be enough.

Many who live along Nonotuck say crashes, close calls and clipped mirrors contribute to trepidation in the neighborhood. To raise awareness about their continued safety concerns along what is dubbed “the Florence highway,” they organized a demonstration on Monday. They parked their cars along the street, narrowing the stretch and bottlenecking traffic, forcing cars to slow down.

As residents discussed their concerns on Monday, a pickup truck wound through one of the bottlenecks and, once clear, hit the gas with gusto.

“We’re not only memorializing our deceased neighbor, but coming together in a sense of unity,” Rick Haggerty, a 20-year resident of the street, said.

A white bike and flowers marked the location of last week’s deadly crash, and white ribbons decorated parked cars and telephone poles in the neighborhood.

Normally, residents don’t park at all along the street, Alex Papouchis said, “because they fear for their lives.”

“Our advocacy will continue until the entire length of this street is calmed,” he said. “We’re still poised to have another serious accident at another one of these spots.”

One resident of Nonotuck Street urged caution until officials release more details about what led to the fatal crash.

“Let’s not rush to interpretation,” Delaine Hudson said. “We don’t know the factors that contributed to the accident, yet.”

Officials at the Northampton Police Department and the Northwestern district attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday on whether speed was a factor in the crash, saying the investigation is still in progress.

Katie Olmstead said she recently moved out of the neighborhood, in part because of the traffic. She said she doesn’t miss hearing the screeching brakes in front of her former home.

“Then you wait that long second to see if that’s followed by a crash,” she said.

Olmstead said one crash inspired her to get involved with advocating alongside Papouchis for improvements on the street.

“That’s when we joined forces,” she said. “We all hoped that this would not get pushed along because of serious injury.”

Organizers say the city has been working as fast as it can to help them. Papouchis said it’s not that the same issues don’t occur in other neighborhoods and in other cities, but that how the city responds to the issues at hand presents an opportunity to model good process.

“No solution is likely to be perfect, address every issue, or meet with the approval of 100 percent of people,” said Councilor At-Large Ryan O’Donnell, who chairs the transportation commission. “But in this case it was important to take action.”

The city will continue to consider other methods of calming traffic along Nonotuck, O’Donnell said.

Natasha Yakovlev said there’s a sense of community that has grown out of the neighborhood effort.

“It’s exactly the busyness of the street that has brought us together,” she said. “Without this grassroots effort, the speed humps probably wouldn't be happening.”

Jennifer Van Beckum, who runs a day care out of her Nonotuck Street home, said she can barely plant flowers in front of her house without fear of getting hit.

“The cars were going so fast I was scared to put the flowers in,” she said. “I feel like it’s gotten worse — people are going faster than they used to.”

Her husband, John Van Beckum, said Porter’s death is a reminder of how the street is a danger to the groups of cyclists who frequent it.

“It just puts such a focus on how easy it can be for someone to lose their life in a moment,” he said. “And there’s some responsibility that we all share for that.”

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@gazettenet.com.




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